Meteoroid Fragmentation in the Martian Atmosphere and the Formation of Crater Clusters
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The current rate of small impacts on Mars is informed by more than one thousand impact sites formed in the last 20 years, detected in images of the martian surface. More than half of these impacts produced a cluster of small craters formed by fragmentation of the meteoroid in the martian atmosphere. The spatial distributions, number and sizes of craters in these clusters provide valuable constraints on the properties of the impacting meteoroid population as well as the meteoroid fragmentation process. In this paper, we use a recently compiled database of crater cluster observations to calibrate a model of meteoroid fragmentation in Mars' atmosphere and constrain key model parameters, including the lift coefficient and fragment separation velocity, as well as meteoroid property distributions. The model distribution of dynamic meteoroid strength that produces the best match to observations has a minimum strength of 10–90 kPa, a maximum strength of 3–6 MPa and a median strength of 0.2–0.5 MPa. An important feature of the model is that individual fragmentation events are able to produce fragments with a wide range of dynamic strengths as much as 10 times stronger or weaker than the parent fragment. The calibrated model suggests that the rate of small impacts on Mars is 1.5–4 times higher than recent observation-based estimates. It also shows how impactor properties relevant to seismic wave generation, such as the total impact momentum, can be inferred from cluster characteristics.
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